The Turkish government’s plan for a May-June transition to a “new normal” in the COVID-19 pandemic has come under fire for prioritizing the reopening of shopping malls amid concerns over a contagion flare-up and doubts over the economic viability of the move.

Ankara claims to have the pandemic under control, but while myriad small businesses remain closed, its decision for shopping malls to reopen May 11 is widely seen as a response to pressure from debt-ridden mall owners, most of whom are close to the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and have seen their businesses thrive under its rule. Most of those giant facilities were built using foreign exchange loans and their owners are now said to be struggling to repay the money as the pandemic keeps exacerbating Turkey’s currency woes.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week spoke of “relaxation in provinces where cases are on the decline,” but risky facilities such as shopping malls will reopen in big urban centers, including Istanbul, which is the epicenter of the pandemic in Turkey with about 60% of the cases in the country.

Written by Mustafa Sönmez